We attended the wedding feast of one of Abby’s staff today. It was flattering to be invited, of course, and there’s no question that the Albanians know how to throw a party. Everyone was very welcoming and the food never stopped. It was a mix of traditional Albanian warmth and American styling, in a New Jersey kind of way.
The feast was held a few miles outside Tirana. It was the groom’s party – the bride’s side had celebrated the night before somewhere else. (This is how they do it, traditionally I suppose so that the couple could celebrate in each of their own villages.) We arrived and gathered outside the restaurant until the groom’s parents arrived, and then went in. What immediately met our eyes were long tables already laden with plates of cold meats and cheeses, olives and yogurt, tomatoes and cucumbers; the bottles of water, beer and soda competing for space with the food; and the bunting. The food looked great, but with the bright lighting, the rows of tables covered with 1.5 liter plastic bottles, the bunting, and the artificial flowers (in water), it put Abby and me both in mind of a V.F.W. hall.
We sat down, and started to drink and chat with some of the guests, but mostly with the other American couple from Abby’s office that was there, and then the bride and groom entered, looking lovely as brides and grooms do, to recorded fanfare. After they were escorted to their table, we began to eat, and almost immediately after that, the music began: a DJ playing songs off a laptop. Except playing wasn’t the right word – blaring is the right word. It’s hard enough to understand Albanian when you can hear it; the volume made trying to converse with any of the Albanian guests pointless. (We did a lot of smiling and wordless toasting, however, which was fine with everyone.)
After the cold plate, they served tavë dheu, which I’ve described in an earlier blog entry, except that this time it was all meat, as far as we could tell. The music continued, sometimes vaguely Arabic-sounding, other times a heavily-synthesized Balkan-polka hybrid, with some of the most eardrum-shredding pitches I’ve ever heard – and I’ve sat through a lot of Hexagon rehearsals. There were two 50’s rock-‘n’-roll tunes, however, so Abby and I did a little swing dancing.
We then sat down to yet a third plate of meat: qofte, a usually grilled patty of ground meat that for some reason was fried instead, and another piece of cold beef. (The plates of salad that were also on the table went largely untouched.) After that, it was back to the dance floor for traditional circle-dancing, in which we wound through the tables, holding each others’ hands up and doing a modified grape-vine step. Think of a hora, Greek folk-dancing, or a local version of Riverdance. Then it was time for plate four – veal escallope.
We were sitting back after this, fairly well stuffed on meat, (and me personally on my second raki), when the bride and groom went out dancing to more of the “Bolka” as I started calling it. The tradition is for the guests to give the couple envelops stuffed with cash, but the bride’s family also had made necklaces out of 1,000 lekë notes and draped them around the bride and groom, so they were out there festooned with cash. The bride even had a number of 1,000 lekë notes stuffed into the front of her dress. I don’t know who stuffed them there – probably female relatives – but nonetheless, the first thought that came to my mind was an inappropriate comparison to some of the clubs on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. I won’t provide the actual quote here, but Abby said that it’s lines like that that make her insist that I keep this blog limited to invited readers.
At this point we were ready for the cake, and they came out with more plates with pastry on them. But it was not cake: it was a piece of byrek accompanied by even more meat. The music, still on at ear-ringing levels, suddenly jumped from Bolka to K.T. Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and then Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, and from there to the Disco Bunny version of 50’s rock-‘n’-roll hits (Kids: ask your parents). It was time to go.
But still, if I may set aside my snide-for-its-own-sake commentary, I have to say not only did we have a good time, but everyone was having fun, and that Albanian hospitality is genuine and honest. A friend has asked me how life is in the “third world” these days, and the most thought-provoking thing about living in Albania at the moment is the electricity: i.e., we have it because we have a generator, and many of our Albanian neighbors and friends don’t. The weather has turned to fall, and if Abby and I are cold at night, then, whether the electrical grid is up or not, we can turn our heaters on at the flick of a switch; a lot of people can’t, no matter how cold it gets. It’s a sad situation. So in the face of the daily indignities that the locals face, their ability to be generous to friend and stranger alike – as they were today – gives you something to think about.